Tar Heel church ladies like their craft beer too, poll shows

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North Carolina’s red-hot craft beer industry is cheering the results of a new poll showing that churchgoers and residents in urban, rural and suburban areas all want to let the small brewers distribute their own product rather than going through well-entrenched distributors.

The poll results may help the craft brewers as they lobby the N.C. General Assembly to change a law that forces microbreweries to relinquish their distribution rights after they have distributed as many as 25,000 barrels. After that, they are must work with existing distributors. Veteran Raleigh political operative Paul Shumaker managed the poll of 800 registered voters. It had a 3.5% margin of error.

The poll shows 77% of those who attend church support removing the ban, along with 79% of rural residents. Among those who don’t attend church, 83% favor a change.

North Carolina Beer and Wine Wholesalers Association Executive Director Tim Kent criticized the poll because of questions that he said were filled with “hot-button phrases” aimed at appealing to emotions, rather that reason. He noted that more than 90% of North Carolina’s brewers produce less than 7,000 barrels annually, making the distribution issue irrelevant for them.

Craft brewers contend money spent on North Carolina-made beer stays within the state, while industry giants Anheuser-Busch InBev SA/NA and MolsonCoors Brewing Co. mostly operate in other states and nations. AB InBev is based in Belgium, while MolsonCoors, which also owns Miller, is headquartered in Canada.

The state’s wholesale distributors have convinced lawmakers to retain the current system in recent legislative sessions, arguing it provides more control than opening the gates to smaller rivals. But Kent noted that other states consider North Carolina a model for good industry regulation; Virginia, Georgia and South Carolina don’t permit distribution by craft brewers. The big wholesalers now control about 96% of all beer sales, according to the craft-beer lobby, which calls itself Craft Freedom.

While the in-state argument may sound good, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Granholm vs. Heald that awarding special privileges to in-state companies at the expense of others violates interstate commerce laws, Kent said.

Both sides are represented by some of Raleigh’s best-known lobbyists. The distributors’ ranks include former N.C. State Sen. Tom Apodaca, who resigned from the legislature last summer. The craft-beer lobby is supported by Charlotte’s NoDa Brewing Co. and Olde Mecklenburg Co. and Whitsett-based Red Oak

The poll also shows that providing more distribution opportunity for craft-beer companies does the near-impossible of uniting Trump and anti-Trump voters. Both camps show strong support for the lifting the cap.

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